Waco, McLennan County leaders say skills training a priority to match job creation | Local government and politics

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Waco Mayor Dillon Meek and McLennan County Judge Scott Felton got together on the same cheerleading squad on Thursday, discussing the good things happening locally. They said economic development is booming, with companies announcing over the past 21 months that they will invest $657 million in new projects totaling 1.75 million square feet and creating 1,400 new jobs.

But with heightened interest from new businesses, the city and county must keep the workforce trained and able to fill positions as they arise. Community leaders agreed that funding a multi-million dollar industrial training center on land owned by the Waco Industrial Foundation would help. Texas State Technical College in Waco is leading the effort to have it built and would own and operate it.

Private companies would play a crucial role in its success. Felton said efforts are underway to secure donations of equipment and training programs.

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Felton and Meek spoke to about 200 people attending the State of the City and County Luncheon held at the Baylor Club at McLane Stadium. They said Waco City Council and the McLennan County Court of Commissioners each lowered the tax rate for the new budget year that begins Oct. 1. – rate of new income.

Felton said the county’s budget includes a 9% salary increase based on the cost of living for county employees, while Waco’s budget calls for an average salary increase of 6%.

The county will spend about $39 million to create a judicial center in the old jail next to the McLennan County Courthouse downtown. Funding will come from the nearly $50 million it received from the US federal bailout act, as well as existing bond debt. The county also allocated US bailout funds to nonprofits such as Meals on Wheels and Friends for Life, local volunteer services and water-related infrastructure projects.

County advertises risky construction manager to oversee county jail conversion that creates space for courtrooms, jury rooms, district attorney’s office, office the district clerk and the justices of the peace. The project also includes the renovation of 9,700 square feet of the third floor of the courthouse annex.

Meek said the city allocated $85,000 for a program to get feedback from builders, contractors and developers on the city’s permitting process.

“We want to make it as easy and efficient as possible,” Meek said.

He said Waco is enjoying exceptional job creation, but workforce development, financial security for residents, and affordable housing remain issues to be addressed and championed in the years to come.

Meek said quality of life projects include plans for a performing arts center somewhere downtown, possibly on Franklin Avenue and University Parks Drive; a new Eastern Little League ballpark; and ongoing efforts to revitalize Lions Park, “a community asset” that has fallen into disrepair and has been leveled to make way for a new attraction still in the planning stages.

Another project would be to convert the Bledsoe-Miller Community Center at 300 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. at the Bledsoe-Miller STEM & Arts Cultural Center, with STEM short for science, technology, engineering, and math.

The city has begun advertising professional design services related to the Bledsoe-Miller project, according to the local office of the Associated General Contractors of America.

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